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The English acronym SWAT (also written SWAT ) stands for S pecial W eapons A nd T actics and is a term for tactical special units within a police authority , whose members are trained and equipped for special police situations . Literally translated the term means special weapons and tactics . The English word to swat means slap or hit. In Germany , the relevant tasks are carried out by the Special Operations Command (SEK).

In the USA , in addition to the classic law enforcement agencies such as the police, border police and the penal system, other organizations such as the United States Department of Energy and NASA also perform police duties and therefore have their own SWAT units.


In the official English language, the generic term Special Response Unit is used for tactical, police special units . However, most authorities, especially the media, consistently speak of Special Weapons and Tactics . As a rule, this should also represent the type of unit where the actual name of a unit is different. SWAT is therefore often synonymous with terms such as Emergency Response Team (ERT) , Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) , Special Response Team (SRT) , Special Operations and Response Team (SORT) , Special Response Force (SRF) , Special Operations Group (SOG ) , Special Tactical Assault Team Element (STATE) , Tactical Response Team or Emergency Service Unit (ESU) .

Originally only used in the USA, the term SWAT finds its way into the naming of special forces worldwide, so u. a. at a special police unit in Beijing (China), which calls itself the Beijing Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (Chinese: 北京 特警 总队) and has the abbreviation "SWAT" on its sleeve badge.



The Emergency Service Unit , which was set up in New York City in 1925 , was the first special police unit that can be seen as the forerunner of today's modern SWAT units.


Badge of the LAPD-SWAT

In 1965, the race rioting of the Watts riot in Los Angeles , which lasted six days, claimed 34 lives and wounded over a thousand, as well as 4,000 arrests and ultimately could only be ended with the help of the National Guard , led to a review of the police tactics. These experiences, together with the rampage of Charles Whitman and the significant increase in crime in which firearms were used, as well as the increase in gang crime , led the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to develop the SWAT concept and in 1967 to establish the first US SWAT unit. Many other US police administrations followed suit and also set up their own SWAT teams, even before another important field of activity was added in the early 1970s - counter-terrorism.

Officer John Nelson came up with the idea for the SWAT concept and developed it further together with Inspector Darryl F. Gates. The basic idea was that of a small, disciplined unit equipped with special weapons and also using special tactics to deal with unusual incidents. The first unit consisted of 15 four-man teams who had volunteered and had special training or a previous military career. They trained together monthly and were otherwise only activated for missions. Since they were supposed to defend police stations even in unrest, they were referred to as station defense teams . The unit was originally supposed to be called the Special Weapons Assault Team or Special Weapons Attack Team , but the police leadership objected that the term would sound too violent. As early as December 4, 1969, there was an exchange of fire with the Black Panthers that lasted several hours , in which 40 SWAT members participated, and in which several thousand rounds of ammunition were fired; Three members of the group and three members of the SWAT team were injured.

The unit was assigned to the Metropolitan Division in 1971 . They wanted a unit that was available at all times, as there had been problems getting the members of the SWAT to the scene quickly enough. SWAT should also be a response to subversive groups and the rising crime rate.

International police exchanges

In the run-up to the 1984 Summer Olympics , it was not just the LAPD that sent observers to units such as the GSG 9 , the French GIGN or the British SAS to get new ideas for protecting the event. The FBI also set up a new unit in 1983, the Hostage Rescue Team .

Further development

90 percent of the police forces with a catchment area of ​​over 50,000 inhabitants now have a SWAT team. In communities with 25,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, the figure is 70 percent. In connection with the war on drugs , about 1.2 million items of military equipment were handed over to police authorities by Congress as of 1993. In addition to fully automatic weapons and bomb robots, these included helicopters, airplanes and grenade launchers.

A study with 40 SWAT teams found that they fired only 64 shots during operations between 1990 and 1996, the majority of them at vehicles and objects such as lamps. The number of firearm applications is u. a. so low because great value is placed on de-escalation and the use of crisis negotiation teams who can usually convince people to give up.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , the military armament of the police, the number of SWAT teams deployed and reports of excessive violence have increased dramatically. In 2005 alone (the last year for which 2013 figures were available) around 50,000 SWAT deployments were reported, around 140 per day. The operations were directed primarily against petty dealers and other people who were not suspected of any serious criminal offense. There are regular media reports about the use of SWAT teams against illegal poker games, alcohol consumers under the age of 21 or foreigners who have violated formal visa regulations. Maryland is the only US state for which statistic statistics on the use of SWAT teams are available; According to the 2012 annual report, house searches without an arrest warrant or imminent danger accounted for almost 90% of all occasions for SWAT operations, around 50% of all operations involved drugs, and in two thirds of all cases the police obtained forceful access, also in two thirds an arrest followed.

The FBI's HRT made the two biggest mistakes in the 1990s. In Ruby Ridge , Idaho , a police officer accidentally shot and killed the wife of a fugitive and in Waco , Texas , cult buildings burned down when police tried to use tear gas grenades. 76 sect members died in the fire and by suicide.

Today, important current projects of the special units aim to involve the rescue service. Many SWAT teams have now involved doctors and paramedics who no longer wait a few streets away - as was the case in the past - but are on site or even go with the teams. To this end, they have usually undergone special training.



The tasks of individual special units depend not only on the number of staff and structure, but v. a. which authorities they are affiliated with and which region they have to cover.

The SWAT of the Tucson Police Department sees its task in providing the police authorities with capacities in order to be able to cope with high-risk situations safely. These include:

  • Hostage-taking,
  • barricaded persons,
  • People with suicidal intentions,
  • Raids and searches where resistance is expected
  • high-risk arrests,
  • Personal protection,
  • Sniper missions and
  • other situations where armed resistance is expected.
Two SWAT officers from San Francisco

FBI Field Office in Buffalo

The FBI Field Office's SWAT in Buffalo, as a federal agency, names somewhat different tasks:

  • The arrest of dangerous and armed people, even in several places at the same time,
  • stopping and attacking vehicles and means of transport such as buses, trains and planes,
  • digging hiding places and accommodations (e.g. by blowing up access),
  • Rescuing hostages in the context of hostage-taking and robbery,
  • the protection of people and events,
  • Sniper missions,
  • the prosecution of volatile perpetrators in rural areas and
  • Operations in connection with ABC weapons

Hostage Rescue Team (FBI)

The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team is deployed throughout the United States and also names extensive areas of responsibility:

  • Maritime operations,
  • Operations in all climates of the US and
  • Helicopter operations.

US Marshals Service

The United States Marshals Service, in turn, has special tasks to cover:

  • Arrest and transport of dangerous offenders,
  • Seizure of assets,
  • Witness and personal protection and
  • Securing courthouses.



The organization of SWAT units is very diverse. It depends on the size of the police authority, its basic organization and other local conditions.

There are about 16,000 independent law enforcement agencies in the United States. In most authorities, the members of the SWAT units take on regular patrol and administrative duties and are only summoned when deployed. Only the training is done together.

As a staff department, the SWAT is partly tied directly to the police command, but sometimes it is also connected to its own management structure with special services, such as the helicopter and dog squadrons as well as the crisis negotiation and bomb disposal team. In some organizations, the SWAT is also divided into small departments across different districts. In this way, the entire SWAT is only called together for large-scale operations.

There are only a few SWATs that are actively on standby around the clock. This includes the Emergency Service Unit of the New York Police Department with around 500 police officers. However, the ESU also takes on other tasks. This includes operations involving hazardous substances, diving operations and the rescue and first aid for accident victims.

Los Angeles groups special units in the Metropolitan Division . The six platoons consist of a horse and a dog division, two units to combat serious crime, the administrative A-platoon and the SWAT team as a D-platoon. The A-Platoon draws up training plans, manages weapons and also provides a doctor, a crisis negotiation team and other specialists. The D-Platoon has been on standby since 1971. In 2003 it was alerted 133 times and used for 122 high-risk arrests. The constant readiness for action is justified by the fact that rapid intervention is one of the principles and prerequisites for the success of SWAT operations.

At the state level, for example, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) has a SWAT that consists of three teams of 21 members each. These are supported by three crisis negotiation teams, each with seven members. The SWAT can fall back on an armored personnel carrier of the type Cadillac Gage Commando LV-150 and three helicopters from the LSP. Additional resources, such as robots for observing or opening doors, can be requested from the LSP Emergency Services Section . If all of this is not enough, equipment from the National Guard may be borrowed. After Hurricane Katrina Blackhawk helicopters and floating armored vehicles of the Light Armored Vehicle-25 type were used .

The Tucson Police Department's SWAT is part of the Emergency Response Section. It is requested about 200 times a year. The staff of 45 is covered by a lieutenant, four sergeants and 40 police officers. Four of them are permanently assigned to the SWAT Squad and are responsible for training plans, equipment and other administrative tasks. The other 41 police officers are called together for operations as required. There is also training at least twice a month. Each member of the team has special tasks, but also trains all other tasks. The SWAT receives support from the other departments of the Emergency Response Section. The Explosive and Hazardous Devices Detail (bomb clearance command) not only supports the SWAT with regard to explosives, but also provides an Andros 6A robot if necessary. The Specialty Vehicle Unit provides special vehicles, such as a mobile command post, and last but not least, the Hostage / Crisis Team (hostage / crisis team) conducts negotiations with 31 members - summoned if necessary - in the event of hostage-taking and similar situations in order to avoid the use of force to end.

US federal units

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Response Teams (SRT)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams (FAST)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Rescue Team (HRT)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Weapons and Tactics Teams
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons Special Operations and Response Teams (SORT)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Response Teams
  • United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Special Response Teams
  • United States Department of Energy Office of Safety and Security (OSS) Special Response Teams (SRT)
  • United States Department of Energy Special Response Force (SRF)
  • United States Marshals Service Special Operations Group (SOG) [14]
  • United States Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC)
  • United States Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)
  • United States Army Military Police Corps Military Police Special Reaction Team (SRT)
  • United States Marine Corps Military Police Special Reaction Team (SRT)
  • United States Air Force Security Forces Emergency Services Team (EST)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

The FBI has a Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) based at the FBI Academy in Quantico , Virginia . A SWAT team is also stationed at each of the 56 field offices.

In 2006, the FBI petitioned the US Senate for $ 11.9 million to upgrade the HRT buildings at the FBI Academy Complex in Quantico, Virginia. These were originally designed for around 50 people, but the HRT currently has over 200 members.

USMS prisoner transport

After September 11, the HRT was deployed 159 times within three years, of which 62 percent were in the counter-terrorism field. The HRT was also used in search and rescue operations after hurricanes Kathrina and Rita .

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

The DEA has 22 Mobile Enforcement Teams (MET) stationed at the 21 DEA Field Offices.

United States Marshals Service

The USMS has a Special Operations Group (SOG) established in 1971 with headquarters on the grounds of the National Guard barracks Camp Beauregard in Louisiana. The installation for the mission is called Marshals Service Tactical Operations Center . In addition to permanent staff, prison staff are available on call in the individual units to strengthen the unit. The USMS also has several Special Response Teams (SRT).

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy, DOE for short , has several Special Response Teams (SRT) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge , Tennessee . The main task of the SRTs is to secure nuclear material and weapon components. The members are primarily recruited from former members of special military units and receive intensive training that also includes day and night combat in urban areas (Close Quarter Battle - CQB). Since the SRTs do not have to perform routine police duties, they train more than ten times as much as the average SWAT.

Recruitment and training

U.S. Air Force 37th Training Wing's Emergency Services Team during training

Admission to a SWAT usually requires two to four years of membership in the relevant authority. After applying, a sports test follows.

While Dallas uses the Cooper Test , Detroit contenders must cover a distance of three miles in 25 minutes. This is followed by 50 push -ups , 80 sit-ups and 20 pull-ups . In Kansas City instead, an obstacle course is completed and performance on the shooting range is assessed.

Then individual interviews are held with the applicants, in which special emphasis is placed on mental resilience.

Basic Detroit training includes 640 hours of handling five different weapons, rappelling, navigation, personal protection, negotiation, driving techniques and convoys, counter-terrorism, tactical procedures and a sniper course. The conclusion is a four-day test with a particularly high stress level.

Regular exercise is often done once or twice a month. Special skills and cooperation are practiced here. This also includes taking on and filling other positions during an assignment.

The special positions include, for example:

  • Sniper,
  • Specialist in the access, hostage rescue or external security team,
  • Specialist in access blasting,
  • Specialist in special ammunition (irritant gas, non-lethal weapons),
  • Armored vehicle drivers,
  • Operator for tactical robots and
  • Paramedic, doctor.

US police officers are not always trained at police academies. Smaller police authorities in particular also rely on independent training providers whose trainers mostly come from the police and military service. There are also specialized institutes that offer special training in connection with an active shooter , i.e. a gunman , or for emergency medicine. Manufacturers such as Heckler & Koch also offer their own training courses in this area, which are then aimed at using the equipment and weapons offered by these companies.

The FBI offers additional training. At the Academy in Quantico , the HRT trains with the Navy Seals - located on the same site - in order to learn from each other. At the same time, it is able to carry out joint operations.


Sharpshooters: Also known as the “eyes of the team”, snipers usually work from particularly favorable positions. The first goal here is to collect information and details of the target object. They also secure the SWAT team and bystanders. Only in the last instance is it your job to shoot. For their very demanding task, snipers must have high psychological and physical potential.

Specialist for access blasting: The access blasting uses as little explosives as possible in order to be precise and to create access for the police officers. It is intended to surprise and disorient the target persons and slow down their actions.

Paramedics and doctors provide first aid to injured people on site, even if the environment is still dangerous. These firefighters and emergency doctors regularly practice with the SWAT and have appropriate personal equipment, such as ballistic protective vests. In addition to providing first aid, they usually also take on medical management (similar to a senior emergency doctor), medical training for the police, patient transport, procurement of medicine for hostages and similar tasks.



US Marshals Service equipment

The armament of the US authorities is very inconsistent. The LAPD alone approves a total of 23 different handguns from Beretta , Glock and Smith & Wesson for patrol officers . The SWAT also has a specially made Kimber Custom II pistol in .45 ACP caliber , of which every officer has two, one with a mounted flashlight and one without.

While the pistol is actually his main weapon for the patrol officer, since he is the only one who wields it constantly on his body, the pistol is the secondary weapon of special forces alongside a submachine gun or rifle. The pistol is used when the primary weapon is defective or a protective shield or dog leash has to be held. Otherwise it is also used in narrow spaces (bus, plane, sewerage).

Fully automatic weapons are mostly submachine guns and rapid fire rifles, as used in the military sector. In the USA, machine guns from Heckler & Koch are predominantly used. The choice of caliber (9 mm, 10 mm, .45 ACP) is very different. In addition, 9 mm versions of the M16 are used, as these are cheaper compared to weapons from Heckler & Koch. In terms of handling, they correspond to the rapid fire rifles in caliber 5.56 × 45 mm based on the M16, which are often the M4 carbines .

Shotguns are still popular in the USA . Most of them are five-shot forearm action rifles , which have a high level of functional reliability even with warm or moist ammunition. The shotgun has a high psychological threat to the police . A 12-caliber shotgun, for example, has a muzzle opening of 18 mm. In addition, there are legends about the target ballistic effect of shot loads on humans, in which it is said that a perpetrator was thrown back across the width of the street. This often causes the opponent to give up and the use of firearms can be omitted.

At short and medium distances, the shotgun also has a high man-stopping effect, with shotgun bullets even at distances of more than 100 m. Warning shots are loud and a shot into the air is less of a threat to the environment than a full metal jacket. Signal ammunition, tear gas cartridges, barricade-breaking projectiles, nylon shot or solid rubber projectiles can be fired with the shotgun. In addition, it is also suitable for close combat, for example when attacking with knives or striking tools.

The sniper rifle, introduced by the US armed forces as the M40 , was launched as the Remington Model 700 (see photo, in the foreground on the ground). It is a very popular weapon with the US police in the 7.62 × 51 mm caliber . Since most sniper missions are at distances between 40 and 100 m, its effective range is more than sufficient. However, there are numerous other rifle manufacturers in the same caliber.

The officers also carry at least one non-lethal weapon with them, for example tasers , batons , pepper sprays or stun grenades .

Clothing and tools

The clothing usually consists of a fireproof overalls as well as a pair of gloves, a bullet-resistant vest , an outer tactical vest that offers space for ammunition and other essential resources. A gas mask , protective goggles and a tactical shield are used to protect the face .


Different vehicles are used. In addition to civilian and patrol cars, this also includes vans and mobile vehicles for operations management. In particularly dangerous situations, armored vehicles, usually without offensive armament, are called in.

Command vehicles are often used not only to deal with special police situations, but also for use as emergency operations centers in major incidents . The Louisiana State Police, for example, is using an approximately 15 m long, three-axle Freightliner with four retractable bay windows that offers space for around a dozen workstations.

The FBI uses, among other things, helicopters of the type MD Helicopters MD 530F "Little Bird" .


The name Special Weapons and Tactics already contains three words that provide potential explosives. In order to sound less aggressive, when the LAPD SWAT was founded, the original wording was changed and the word Assault in Special Weapons Assault Tactics was replaced by the word and . In addition, the word weapons is associated with violence and the word tactics with military action.

As early as 1993 it was proposed to reduce the number of SWAT units. About 99 percent of all situations in which SWAT teams were called upon were ended without the use of these units. The suspect would recognize his situation and see the hopelessness. Uniformed police officers could clear the majority of these situations and in many cases it would be sufficient to request a crisis negotiation team instead of a full SWAT. For example, the Culver City (California) police department has requested a SWAT only once in 16 years (1977 to 1993). The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office (LASO) had 500 deployments in four years (1988-1991). During the first three years (385 missions) every situation was clarified without the use of force (so-called talk out ). In 1991, five of 115 missions were ended with an exchange of fire, four times suspects were killed. In this context, however, the need for SWAT teams in large cities and in regions where e.g. B. relatively many "crack houses" are located.

Another consideration related to SWAT is the cost of maintaining the unit. Although many police authorities only have “part-time SWATs”, and some do not even have the necessary service vehicles or have converted them themselves from retired ambulances, the training also costs time and money if the emergency services are not challenged. So that has Los Angeles County 47 police authorities and with the LASO a sheriff. A SWAT can be requested from the LASO at any time by the 47 police forces - based on a contractual basis. Nevertheless, 15 police authorities still maintain their own SWAT.

The ACLU criticizes the frequency of use of SWAT units. It is now enough that there is a suspicion of drug offenses to have the house stormed by a heavily armed SWAT team. Due to the particularly brutal nature of the storm, there are always fatalities and injuries. A 19-month-old toddler was seriously injured when a stun grenade thrown into the room fell into the child's cradle. As it turned out, the police had made a mistake in the house and stormed the wrong apartment.

The ACLU is particularly concerned about the increasing transfer of disused military equipment to SWAT units. Several thousand discarded armored vehicles, weapons, silencers, drones and other military equipment have been passed on from the military to the police. The concern is that this military device will change the tactics of the SWAT teams for the worse, i. That is, the SWAT teams increasingly acted like soldiers and not like police officers.

National and international comparative competitions

The Original SWAT World Challenge (OSWC) , which has been named since 2004, takes place annually. This international comparison competition, which the German GSG 9 won in 2005 and 2006, is an invitation-only tournament. This is not only broadcast on several US TV stations, but it is also reported in the media around the world (Germany: TV station Welt and specialist magazine " Caliber ").

Media reception

In the US public, SWAT teams became known through the 1976 series SWAT , which ran in Germany under the title The Knallharten Five . However, it was often described as unrealistic and - for the time - too violent. Therefore, she was canceled after 37 episodes.

In the following years, SWAT units were less often made the actual topic of films, but they caused drama. In series such as Standoff or Sleeper Cell , but also in films such as In the Line of Fire - The Second Chance .

See also

Web links

Commons : SWAT  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  3. Jeff Neely: swatting Trouble. In: NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, December 7, 2005, accessed March 9, 2009 .
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